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The best travel car seats for your next trip

Lighter than regular car seats, these picks make it easy to get from point A to point B.
When shopping for a travel car seat, the weight of it is one of the most important factors.
When shopping for a travel car seat, the weight of it is one of the most important factors. Courtesy Becca Delman

Traveling with young kids takes a good deal of planning—and usually involves some heavy-duty packing to ensure you have everything you need while away from home. Whether you are flying somewhere or taking a road trip, your stress levels will hinge on your littles ones being safe and feeling comfortable for long periods of time. For that you’ll need a high quality travel car seat.

My husband and I took our first out-of-state trip with our daughter last fall when she was just over a year old. Our vacation to North Carolina involved a plane ride and then a rental car when we arrived at our destination. Initially, we considered bringing our Nuna Rava car seat, but at 27.2 pounds, we decided it would be too heavy to lug around with us as we navigated the airport and car rental office. So, we bought the Cosco Scenera Next DLX Convertible Car Seat, a lightweight travel car seat that was easy to carry through the airport while also managing our carry-on luggage and our daughter.

SKIP AHEAD The best travel car seats | How to

Travel car seats, compared to regular car seats, are designed to be more portable while on the go. To help you shop for the right travel car seat for your needs, we consulted experts about what to look for and compiled recommendations based on their advice and high ratings.

How we picked the best travel car seats

We interviewed car seat experts to get their tips on what to look for in a travel car seat. Based on their guidance, we kept the following in mind when sourcing highly-rated options:

Portability: We looked for car seats that weighed under 15 pounds to ensure they’d be easy enough to carry and move around. For this reason, we also prioritized slimmer designs over wider options.

Ease of Installation: Car seat safety hinges on proper installation. Since you’ll likely have to install and uninstall the car seat multiple times during the course of a trip, we made sure our picks make that process simple.

Certification Status: In the United States, car seats must meet specific safety standards like the use of flame-retardant materials and restraints that can withstand a crash—all of our recommendations do that. In addition to meeting those standards, the car seats on this list are also approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) so that they can be installed in a plane seat.

The best travel car seats

To help you find the best travel car seat for your child, we considered recommendations from certified child passenger safety technicians and highly rated options from brands like Evenflo, Safety 1st and more.

Cosco Scenera Next DLX Convertible Car Seat

I bought this lightweight car seat (just over 6 pounds) for my 2-year-old daughter and found it was easy to carry through the airport and its slim profile fit nicely in the narrow plane seat. It can be used for both infants and toddlers and be placed in the car rear-facing (for kids from 5 to 40 pounds) or forward-facing (for kids between 22 and 40 pounds who are at least a year old). This car seat is FAA-approved for use on aircrafts. It has a 5-point, adjustable harness to secure your child safely and the cover is machine washable. You can either use lower anchors to install it or a seatbelt.

Product Weight: 6.4 pounds | Child Size Guidelines: Up to 40 pounds and 43 inches tall | Installation Type: Seatbelt, Latch equipped

Doona Infant Car Seat and Latch Base

If you are looking for an infant car seat (suitable for babies who are up to 35 pounds and 32 inches tall) that is good for everyday use (as well as on trips), this pick is worth considering. Select contributor Jo Piazza says she recommends the Doona car seat and stroller to every expectant parent she knows. It can be installed in your car via its base, or simply secured with a seatbelt. When taking it out of the car, you simply press a button and wheels unfold that allow you to push the seat as a stroller. At 17.2 pounds, this car seat is heavier than other options on this list but makes transitioning to a stroller a breeze. It has been approved by the FAA for use on planes.

Product Weight: 17.2 pounds | Child Size Guidelines: Up to 35 pounds and 32 inches tall | Installation Type: Seatbelt, Base is latch equipped

Evenflo Tribute 5 Convertible Car Seat

This car seat costs under $100 and has a 4.5-average star rating from 5,861 reviews on Amazon. It is designed and tested for structural integrity at energy levels approximately twice the Federal crash test standard, according to the brand. It weighs 9.29 pounds, can be used rear or front facing and can be installed using latches or a seatbelt. This seat also has a removable head pillow and the cover is machine washable.

Product Weight: 9.29 pounds | Child Size Guidelines: Up to 40 pounds and 40 inches tall | Installation Type: Seatbelt, Latch equipped

Safety 1st Jive 2-in-1 Convertible Car Seat

“If you want the most bang for your buck out of your travel car seat, this is a great option,” says Michelle Pratt, a certified child passenger safety technician, car seat expert and founder of Safe in the Seat. She likes that the lightweight car seat has a long life span, as it’s suitable for children from 5 pounds to 65 pounds. This convertible car seat has a 5-point harness that can be adjusted to 5 different heights to grow with your child and is approved by the FAA.

Product Weight: 14.25 pounds | Child Size Guidelines: Up to 65 pounds | Installation Type: Seatbelt, Latch equipped

WayB Pico Forward Facing Car Seat

This seat was recommended by both Pratt and Amie Durocher, a certified child passenger safety technician and creative director of Safe Ride 4 Kids, an advocacy group that aims to help parents make safe choices when it comes to car seats. It weighs only 8 pounds and is approved by the FAA for use on planes. This car seat can only be installed forward-facing, meaning that it is best for children over the age of 2. When not in use, the WayB Pico can be folded in half for portability or, for an additional cost, you can store it in the brand’s padded backpack.

BubbleBum Inflatable Travel Booster Seat

This booster is intended for kids between the ages of 4 and 11 and can be blown up when you need to use it, then deflated to easily store it in your bag. It has a 4.3-average star rating from 5,410 reviews on Amazon and meets both U.S. Federal car seat regulations, as well as those in Europe. One thing to note: It is not approved by the FAA for use on a plane. However, most children old enough to use this should fit comfortably in an airplane seat, anyway.

Product Weight: 1 pound | Child Size Guidelines: 40 to 100 pounds and up to 57 inches tall | Installation Type: Seatbelt

How to shop for the best travel car seats

When it comes to purchasing a travel car seat, here are the key factors our experts recommend you keep in mind:

Portability: Your everyday car seat may be FAA-approved for use on a plane, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s ideal for travel: “It may be too darn heavy,” says Pratt. “If you fly often, we recommend having a lighter car seat for travel. This way you have a lighter, less-expensive car seat to travel the world with without the hassle or risk of lugging around your top-of-the-line seat.” Sticking to a travel car seat that is under 20 pounds will make it easier to carry it through an airport.

Ease of Installation: Since you’ll likely have to install and uninstall a car seat at least once during a trip, you’ll want that process to be as smooth as possible. There are two ways to install a car seat—most employ a latch system, says Durocher—which stands for lower anchors and tethers for children. Essentially, small buckles near the base are locked into corresponding receptors that live in the crease between the seat and back of your car. Otherwise, car seats use a seatbelt system, which may be your only option in an older rental car, says Durocher.

Certification Status: Any car seat you use should meet Federal safety standards. These include restraints that hold up in a crash, flame-retardant fabric and buckle release pressure. You should be able to find this information on the packaging. There are a lot of knockoffs being sold online that say they are travel car seats but are not safe or legal to use,” says Durocher, so checking for this classification is especially important. Then, if you want to bring it on an airplane to use it as a seat (rather than checking it), it needs to have another certification. “Make sure it is FAA-approved and labeled as such,” adds Durocher. “Some airline employees will check the stickers on the seat to make sure it is FAA approved.”

What’s the difference between a regular car seat and a travel car seat?

The biggest difference between a car seat you’d use every day and one for travel is size and weight. Most people leave the car seat they use regularly installed in their car, so it doesn’t really matter if it’s heavier. Heavier, wider car seats can be better for constant use because it usually means they’re a bit more comfortable for your child and may have some nice features—like attached cup holders and extra padding. But those extras weigh more and may mean the seat is not narrow enough for those 18-inch airplane seats, says Pratt. Finally, a normal car seat doesn’t need FAA approval, which you will need if you plan to bring a car seat on a plane.

Should you check your travel car seat or bring it on the plane?

If air travel is part of your trip, you have the option of either checking your car seat (which airlines typically offer for free) or carrying it on the plane and installing it in a seat, so long as it’s FAA-approved. “However, the FAA and the American Academy of Pediatrics highly recommend flying with your child safely strapped into their car seat,” says Pratt. “During severe turbulence or a potential runway collision, your child is not safe in your arms. Your car seat kiddo can safely ride just like they do in the car. Whether they’re rear-facing or front-facing.” Plus, they may feel more comfortable:if they fall asleep, they can rest their head against the side of the car seat for support—something that they won’t have in a plane seat.

Meet our experts

At Select, we work with experts who have specialized knowledge and authority based on relevant training and/or experience. We also take steps to ensure all expert advice and recommendations are made independently and without undisclosed financial conflicts of interest.

Michelle Pratt is a certified child passenger safety technician, a car seat expert and the founder of the website, Safe in the Seat.

Amie Durocher is a certified child passenger safety technician and creative director of Safe Ride 4 Kids.

Why trust Select?

Bethany Heitman is a contributor at NBC Select and a journalist who regularly covers topics like travel, home and lifestyle. She is also a frequent traveler herself and has been to more than 30 countries. For this story, she interviewed two experts to gather their guidance and researched highly-rated travel car seats based on their advice.

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